When You Know
Two small children walking towards the playground, one mom trailing behind as the boys kick off their sandals and race through the sand, sprinting towards the playscape.
But life isn’t a snapshot. Life is a video — and the camera never stops rolling.
The boys reach the warren of tunnels and chutes and ladders. They each slide down. Once. Then they spend the rest of their time climbing on top of the tunnels or climbing up the slide, their bare feet slipping on the warm plastic, their little toes trying to grip the slippery surface.
The older one has dark hair and an eager smile. The younger one — the redhead — grins but there is bright mischief in his light brown eyes. He will never see the world like other folks. This is both a wonderful and frightening realization for a mother. You know you will spend much of your life trying to nurture his originality while simultaneously trying to keep the sharp edges of the world from puncturing his soul. Fortunately (and unfortunately) you have experience in this realm: you’ve been doing this same thing for yourself your whole life. In this way, you are sure you are every other mom in the world.
Your boys continue to play like this for an hour — walking up the slide or perching on top of the tunnels, testing the bolts, attempting to figure out how the structure was built, analyzing the design — much to the chagrin of those children who want to slide down the half-tube and play inside the structure, which is, you realize, the desire of most kids on any playground.
You notice all this from the monkey bars, where you are working on your pull-ups. Your children are safe in their perch over soft sand. You are not worried. They have not fallen yet, and, as it turns out, they never will fall from a playscape, but you don’t know this yet. As almost always happens, one of the other moms approaches you on the bars. She has confusion in her eyes, but there is kindness in her voice. “Are you okay with that? Your kid is sitting on top of the tube.”
You smile. She means well, but this well-coiffed, nicely-manicured woman has no idea what it’s like to be you and live with these tiny, brilliant semi-adults. She’s never sat and watched your three-year-old child do complex puzzle after puzzle, on top of each other, never bothering to clear away the first one, the pattern of the new challenge flashing like multiple blinking traffic lights, but only to him and no one else in the room. His gift is patterns. He can see them anywhere, like he has a special power. But no one else can see the power, and your boy doesn’t wear a cape. The world just sees him as different, like these kids and moms on the playground do.
“He’s okay. They’re both okay. They just like to do things their own way,” you reply, eager and yet not eager to put her at ease. “Thank you.”
The mom furrows her brow a bit and smiles faintly, but walks off, back towards her perfect children. She’s done her job as a good person, but you know she will continue to keep an eye on your children, and she will whisper to the other moms about her confusion and her valiant efforts to save those whom she thinks need saving. But no one is drowning and this mom is not a lifeguard. You are all swimming, strong and happy. The others just can’t see the ocean or feel the currents. And that’s okay. You know that, even if it took you a while—a lifetime—to realize such a simple truth.
You jump back up to the bars and go hand-over-hand across the structure. None of the other moms join you. It is three years before you will learn about CrossFit. In fact, the first CrossFit affiliate has just opened in a state north of you. But you don’t know that yet either. And pull-ups by women are not cool yet. But soon, oh soon they will be.
Eventually, your boys unlock enough of the mysteries of the structure for today and walk back over to you, black rubber and velcro sandals in their hands. They are ready to return home, where you know you will spend the afternoon shooting off Alka-Seltzer rockets on your driveway, in between rounds of addition, subtraction, and division completed in big bright chalk numbers on the cement under the surprisingly tall tree that shades your house in this mostly desolate, brutal landscape.
It is impossible to hide your unique family, and these days are just the start of abandoning the camouflage for all of you. The desert sun moves higher on the cloudless horizon. You ask your boys if they want popsicles. Because it is not yet lunchtime, they pause just a moment before their little voices explode into giggles and yesses, their chortles circling higher and higher in the big, beautiful sky.